According to the “experts,” the Illini win over Nebraska over the weekend solidified their entry into this year’s Tournament. That may or may not be true, but losing the last two games of the season isn’t going to build my confidence, or the team’s. In a game that meant more to the Hawkeyes than it did to the Illini (which was evident in how the teams played), Iowa beat Illinois 63-55 at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson showed up for the game, but everyone else seemed to have gotten left behind in the storm. Paul had 18 points and 9 rebounds, while Richardson contributed 13 points, 2 steals and 4 rebounds. Nnanna Egwu got involved with 6 points and 7 rebounds, but everyone else might as well have stayed home. The defense was lacking, and long stretches of scoreless agony led to Iowa getting the win.
The Illini bench was just short of atrocious. Joseph Bertrand seemed to screw up every time he touched the ball, finishing with 3 points, 3 fouls and 4 turnovers; ouch. Myke Henry’s stat sheet didn’t look much better, with 1 turnover, 3 rebounds and no points.
Down by just 2 points with 4:45 to go (after being down by 10 or more for most of the second half) Illinois just couldn’t crawl back into the game. Before last night’s matchup, Iowa was on the wrong side of the bubble, and needed a solid win to get closer to the middle. However, even if they beat Nebraska in their last game of the year, the Hawkeyes still might be stuck at home as March continues.
Illinois, on the other hand, will head to Columbus on Sunday, in a game that I am planning to use. In Iowa City, Illinois had a chance, but in Columbus, not so much. A loss would leave them at 8 or 9 entering the B1G Tourney, which is bad for many reasons.First of all, I have tickets for the 6/7 games. Secondly, they’re going to play tougher competition in the first round, making it difficult to get to the second. Many assure me that these losses won’t affect their Tourney goals, especially since they have so many high-profile wins. I don’t believe this to be true, and even if they do get into the Tournament I don’t have a lot of confidence in how they will perform.
So that’s where we’re at. Iowa dashed my dreams, and Ohio State very well may smoosh them into the ground. A record of 21-12 isn’t going to look great to the eyes of the committee (we’re at 21-10 right now), regardless of how many top teams we beat along the way to get there. And, I’d like to feel some confidence that they remember what it’s like to win away from home.
I can’t believe that we are just one game away from the end of the regular season. Time always whizzes by so fast when it’s basketball season. I’m not ready for the season to end, and neither are the Illini. Sunday could be a very important game for many reasons. I can’t remember the last time Illinois won at Ohio State, but the record book informs me it was as recent as 2009. And, when the Buckeyes visited Champaign earlier in the year Illinois successfully made them look like fools. Although, Illinois also lost by 20 at Purdue, but clobbered the same team at home. So, there’s that.
Not unlike the Bruce Weber years, this Illini team is still inconsistent. Perhaps it’s the senior leadership, which isn’t going to change much next year (the only senior will be the aforementioned Bertrand), but perhaps the newbies will be able to make a huge difference. But that’s waaaay in the future. Let’s take it one step at a time, and beat Ohio State. Get to it, guys.
The game will be on Sunday at 11:30 AM on ESPN.